EXCLUSIVE: ‘Deeply concerning’ images show how Toronto’s most vulnerable use the TTC as their last resort

An undated image shows individuals sleeping on a TTC streetcar.

Now Toronto has obtained exclusive videos and photos which show TTC riders engaging in “deeply concerning” activity, as the transit system continues to address a rise in violence and unhoused individuals sheltering on TTC vehicles.

The undated videos were sent by an anonymous TTC worker who wants to remain unidentified for privacy reasons and fear of reprisal. 

In one video, a woman is seen sitting on a TTC bus and smoking. Another video shows a man urinating while laying down on seats in a streetcar.

In another video, a woman is seen inside a TTC bus kicking the front doors and yelling “let me off the bus” to the driver. She is then seen banging on the plexiglass barrier surrounding the driver. 

Another image appears to show four individuals sleeping on a streetcar. 

The source who supplied the images and footage said violent and problematic incidents within the transit system have been an ongoing “reality” for most TTC employees throughout their careers. 

They also noted that the number of unhoused individuals using the transit system for shelter has increased since the pandemic began three years ago. 

“As ridership plummeted, homeless people saw an opportunity to use transit as moving shelters, often using TTC for warmth to sleep and take drugs,” they said to Now Toronto. 

They added that the TTC often “prioritizes continuation of service over safety of the public.” 

“Many times I’ve identified…someone who needs immediate intervention because they’re showing signs of potentially harmful behaviour and the TTC directs us to continue service and call them back if something happens,” they said. 

Marvin Alfred, president of ATU Local 113, the union that represents TTC workers, says he is “deeply disturbed and concerned” by the images. 

“But unfortunately, it’s not something we’ve never seen before. Our members have often been subjected to drug use on board their vehicles, hostile passengers, and violence,” Alfred said in an email statement to Now Toronto. 

The images and footage come amid an increase in violent acts in the transit system within the past month. In fact, at least six violent attacks were reported in and around the TTC within five days last week alone. 

On Monday, the City of Toronto announced it would be temporarily adding more than 50 security guards across the system. The city says the guards have experience dealing with under-housed people in crisis and have training in areas, including mental health first aid, overdose prevention, recognition and response training and nonviolent crisis intervention. 

Last Thursday, Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw, TTC CEO Rick Leary and Toronto Mayor John Tory held a joint news conference and announced that both police and the TTC were boosting the presence of officers and special constables within the transit system immediately.  

In an email statement to Now Toronto on Monday, the TTC said it is committed to working with police and the City of Toronto to make the TTC “as safe as possible” for customers and employees.

“We are addressing this through a balanced approach that would see officers specially trained in de-escalation, mental health issues and social/racial equity deployed to assist in the event of security issues and to be visibly present as a deterrent,” TTC Spokesperson Stuart Green said.

“As well we’ll have more special street outreach workers in the system to assist those in need get supports in a compassionate way. We’ll also have more uniformed supervisors and stations staff in the system to assist and be visibly present for additional comfort and peace of mind,” he added. 

Green acknowledged that there are bigger societal and systemic issues to consider “when it comes to the root causes of these incidents that require a multi-pronged response.”

Other safety features the TTC has implemented include cameras and emergency alarms in all stations, two-way communications systems on platforms in the designated waiting areas, and the SafeTTC app to report suspicious incidents in real-time, among others. 

Meanwhile, the city has proposed $958.7 million in its 2023 budget, a nearly six per cent increase from 2022, to invest in hiring 10 more Streets to Homes outreach workers, and hiring 50 additional TTC special constables, among other investments. 

However, Tory announced that a 10-cent fare increase for adults would be necessary to make this budget possible. 

Alfred said all levels of government need to work together to tackle the escalating violence.

“…We continue to call on all levels of government to work with the TTC at tackling the root causes including housing affordability and mental health as part of the broader issue of safety on public transit. Ensuring that Torontonians who need it have access to shelter and mental health support will protect our members at their place of work,” he said. 

Advocacy group TTCriders says the proposed budget isn’t sufficient enough in addressing residents’ transit and safety concerns. 

The group is holding a transit safety townhall on Feb. 9 to discuss the investments needed. It is calling for additional community support and more reliable TTC service at all hours of the day. 

“Unhoused people are vulnerable to violence and are sheltering in the TTC because there is nowhere safe and warm for them to go. Investing in more Streets to Homes workers won’t help anyone if there is nowhere safe and warm for unhoused people to go, and Streets to Homes are not the same as mental health crisis support workers,” Executive Director Shelagh Pizey-Allen said in a statement to Now Toronto. 

Toronto’s Streets to Homes staff are available 24/7 and reach out to people who are sleeping outdoors and experiencing homelessness. 

The city also offers services for people who are 16 years old or older sleeping outside, including water and referrals to food programs, identification documents (ID) and income support, assistance to develop a housing plan, clothing and harm reduction supplies, among others. 

The TTCriders’ townhall is set from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. via online or in-person at Centennial College Progress Campus.  

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